Pearl Harbor Survivor – Edwin Hugh Waldron
My father Edwin Hugh Waldron was a Pearl Harbor survivor.
He just passed away at the age of 96 in April. I have worked at getting his story for years, and little by little over the years we were able to get a lot of it. I know he kept some of the tragic day and aftermath buried deep in the forever sealed chambers of his mind.
My mother was in the WAVES, and although she was not at Pearl during the bombing, she spent all her off duty time volunteering at the Naval Hospital to assist the wounded sailors.
When I was in the fourth grade I came home from school and like religious clock work my mother asked me what I had learned in school that day. I told her that we learned about the heroes of Pearl Harbor – all about the hideous Japanese surprise attack, all the men that died on the Arizona, and all the surviving men who heroically did everything they could to help and rescue the injured and trapped men.
I remember this day very clearly, the teacher’s passionate message and my mother’s reaction. So as I’m gushing all about what I had learned and all about the wonderful heroes of that day, my mother calmly says, “Would you like to meet one of those heroes?”
Amazed and surprised that my mother actually knows a Pearl Harbor survivor, I say, “YES!!”
She told me, “Okay; go do your chores and homework, and I will introduce you to him later.”
So, later that afternoon I hear my father drive in, and we go to the door as we always did when he came home from work. He opened the door, tool a step in the house and my mother says, “There is your hero.”
I was flabbergasted! WHAT?? My father is one of the heroes my teacher was gushing with pride about at school that day?? I remember saying, “You are one of the heroes?”
Very emphatically and definitely he replied, “NO, I am NOT a hero, the heroes never made it home”.
That was my first memory of anything to do with my father being at Pearl Harbor.
Little did I know at that time that my mother knew very well all about the war and Pearl Harbor. She was one of the first women to join the navy after the war started and they began to allow women into service.
The ladies in the Navy were called “WAVES” then, “Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.”
My mother was stationed at Pearl Harbor and had a top secret clearance as a storekeeper. She worked with the Pacific Fleet’s ships provisions and had knowledge of where the fleet was going, who was on board, how long the cruise was based, and what food was on the ship.
It’s About Damn Time
All through the years, we tried to get my father to join the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association (PHSA). He refused. He said over and over that he had been there, seen the devastation, lost so many friends; he didn’t need to ever think of it again.
I remember when (in 1991) a small flat dark green velvet box was taken from a manila envelope my dad got in the mail. When he opened the box it contained a bronze commemorative coin for the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. He took one look at it and irritatedly announced, “It’s about damn time, and they waited until most of us were dead.”
He was not impressed at all that the government had waited 50 years to honor the survivors since so many were not around to see it.
The Official White Cap
Dad never spoke of the attack. We, over the many years, often asked questions, and as time past he revealed few memories. Mainly, my mother would proudly repeat his story, and he would shake his head as if to say, Yep that’s what happened.
For many, many years we continued to try to get my father to join the PHSA. We thought it was so important to tell his story and get it documented. He still refused. Like a typical 10th generation, Revolutionary War descendant, West Virginia born Scots-Irishman he stubbornly refused.
Over the past 10 years my husband would drag my dad to the PHSA meetings hoping to get him interested, but no. There were even honorary members for quite some time. I think it was finally after 69 years that my dad realized he was the only man without the white ceremonial cap. After 70 years, my father finally became an “official” member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. He never felt a need to join until he decided he wanted the “official white cap,” and the only way to get the “official white cap” was to join.
He very painfully agreed to tell his story on video. However, by that time his memory was so faded from his recent illness and surgeries, and the pain of his memories so great, that his story was mostly gone.
It’s funny what motivates people; by golly he wanted that “official white cap!” So he now has the cap!
In relating my father’s account of Pearl Harbor Day, we start long before that December day. Dad left the hills of West Virginia forever in 1938 when he joined the Navy.
He always said that “they all knew” America would get sucked into the war. No one knew how or when exactly, but they all knew we would be involved.
Dad was attached to the Litchfield, an old WWI 4-stacker. It was a destroyer, as I recall him saying, the Admiral’s flag ship.
Dad had asked several times for a transfer to the Air Corps as in his exact words, he “did NOT want to be a sitting duck.” The transfer was finally approved. When the fleet went into Pearl for fuel and restocking provisions, Dad was dropped off at the sub base to later get a troop transport to Moffat Air Station where he was going to get his air training.
Fortunately the Pacific Fleet was back out to sea on Saturday, December 6th. They were only in port for a few days. They made it to safety just one day before Dec 7th. The Japanese Air Fleet was after our two aircraft carriers.
In all the years and times that I asked Dad about that day, he rarely said anything. He might start to tell a little, then he would get suddenly silent. It’s like a puzzle we’ve had to put together throughout the years, a little information here and there, and now the puzzle is almost complete after so many tries. This is what I have gleaned from him as to that day.
He woke up to “all hell breaking loose.” He was on the 3rd floor of the sub base barracks and ran downstairs as did everyone else. At the door, rifles were being passed out. Dad had a .30-06 bolt action Springfield. There was so much chaos. No one had a clue what to do other than take a gun and defend Pearl Harbor. He ran out the door, looked around for a safe place to sit and shoot from. He ran down the pier to the submarines moor. At the end of the dock was an old steam shovel that had been dredging the channel. Dad climbed into the iron bucket and waited for the Japanese planes to fly over. He took several shots at the planes. One was hit, smoked and crashed. He never knew if it was his bullet or someone else’s, but the plane crashed. He always wondered if his bullet had done the job.
Dad said that it was so chaotic, with so many planes in the air, that he watched two of our planes have a head on collision over Hickam, which is just to the south of Pearl. He saw the battleships get hit on battleship row and saw the bomb fall onto the Arizona and the massive explosion.
Dad never once told this much in one try of telling the story. He would always freeze and end it when he realized that he was “remembering.”
Over the many years, I would get snippets of the story.
One time we were discussing watch making and repair. He mentioned that he had a good buddy who was a great watch maker, who was stationed on the Arizona. By the time he reached the ship’s name, it came out “Arrrr-iiiiiii-zooooo-n-aaaaaaaaa…” End of conversation.
It was always that way; he would recall something that reminded him of something horrific that day, and bam! End of conversation.
Dad said that it ended up taking about six months to finally get to Moffat Air Station for air training.
He either doesn’t remember the rest of that day, or just refused to ever think of the rest of the day. The rest of the day was nothing compared to that morning.
The worst, most sad story that my mother would relate of the aftermath was “the tapping.” All who related “the tapping” to my mother (including my father apparently) said it was gut wrenching.
After the bombing ended and the rescue efforts started, the men trapped were tapping out Morse code messages of where they were trapped, how many injured and so on in hopes of being rescued. The story was always told with such reverence and quiet sadness. The tapping got less and less everyday until there was no more tapping. The men who had been tapping messages were either rescued or never secured.
Loose Lips Sink Ships
When I was a kid, I remember looking in Dad’s locked cabinet, as we often got to have a peek. In amongst his prized possessions was an ivory slide rule. He got it off the 2-man Japanese sub that was hit on December 21st by the Ward in the harbor. It was lifted from the water and placed on the pier at the sub base where Dad was temporarily until he got a transport to air training at Moffat. Dad said the oddest thing was that there was American candy, a Hershey bar, in the sub, a suspicious thing as having American candy would have been very odd as at this point we were at war with Japan. So it lead them to believe that there were traitors providing the Hershey bars.
Dad’s National PHS # 108517A
Patti Waldron Cline, Daughter of a Pearl Harbor Survivor and a Navy WAVE
Edited by Napua N. Heen October 19, 2016
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